Stoke City vs. Liverpool: Winners and Losers from Capital One Cup
Liverpool will be favored to advance to the Capital One Cup final after claiming a 1-0 victory at Stoke City on Tuesday night in the first leg of the two clubs' semi-final at the Britannia Stadium.
The visitors dominated the opening half but could only score the single goal, through Jordon Ibe, in the 37th minute. Tempering that good news, however, were injuries to Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren, both of whom made way for substitutes before halftime.
Stoke improved after the break but largely failed to trouble Simon Mignolet in Liverpool's goal.
The second leg is scheduled for Jan. 26 at Anfield.
Here, Bleacher Report selects winners and losers from the first leg.
Winner: Joe Allen
Growing a full beard does not make a player the new Andrea Pirlo. But for Liverpool's Joe Allen, it apparently didn't hurt Tuesday night.
Allen sparkled in Liverpool's midfield against Stoke, drawing rave reviews from interested onlookers. "Clyne, Lucas, Can all good today but really thought JOE ALLEN was MOTM tonight," tweeted Anfield Talk. "Made things tick and unlucky not to win a penalty too."
"He gets a lot of stick, but tell you what Joe Allen was immense tonight," tweeted Red Regista. "Ran the show in midfield along with Emre. Superb."
The highlight of Allen's performance was the assist on Jordon Ibe's match-winning goal. What initially appeared a mis-kick looked like something else entirely upon further review.
Watch this clip for yourself. Notice how Allen spots Ibe's run before latching on to the cross. Then see how well he hits the ball straight into his teammate's path despite not looking.
Allen meant that pass, and it was a brilliant assist.
Winner: Jordon Ibe
Jordon Ibe might not have been on the pitch in the first half if not for an injury to Philippe Coutinho (more on that momentarily). But he made the most of his chance, firing the winner past Jack Butland in the 37th minute.
The second half saw Ibe miss a few opportunities, but he'd already made an important contribution to Liverpool's cause.
Curiously, the 20-year-old is making a habit of scoring in cup competitions. According to Opta Joe, all three of Ibe's goals this season have come in either the Capital One Cup or the Europa League.
That's a handy stat for player and club, especially as Liverpool continue their push for the Capital One Cup title.
"Hamstring is the s*** word of the year for me," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said in December (h/t David Prentice at the Liverpool Echo), shortly after Divock Origi became the club's seventh player to suffer a hamstring injury this season. "It is always hamstring, hamstring, hamstring—that is the intensity of the game and fixtures."
After Tuesday's match, it's clear that Klopp left a couple words out of his rant. Those two words—inevitably—were "hamstring" yet again.
In the 18th minute, Philippe Coutinho limped off the pitch with a hamstring injury. His replacement, Jordon Ibe, scored the winner, but a Coutinho absence for any amount of time would be awful news for Liverpool.
The Reds face a tricky stretch next, playing at Exeter City in the FA Cup before hosting Premier League leaders Arsenal and then Manchester United. If Coutinho misses those games, Klopp's already weakened squad will be diminished even more.
But that wasn't his only concern. In the 34th minute, defender Dejan Lovren also left the game with a hamstring issue. With Martin Skrtel already injured—hamstring, naturally—and Mamadou Sakho out of the squad for the night, Klopp had to deploy Lucas Leiva as an emergency center-back.
It worked, with the unfamiliar duo of Lucas and Kolo Toure keeping Stoke at bay. But afterwards, Klopp couldn't disguise his irritation. According to BBC Sport, he said:
The biggest problem for us is we have two and maybe three injured players again. (It is) very frustrating. The problem is we had too much injury, when the players come back others are injured. It is a cycle that needs to come out. We have no break, no recovery, Players who never had a problem had no problems in pre-season are fine, for all other players it is up and down.
Liverpool's injury list is now alarmingly long, and Klopp has to hope it doesn't derail his ambitions entirely.
The scoreline might suggest this was a tight game that featured few scoring opportunities. On the contrary, the teams took plenty of shots, only to be let down by consistently poor finishing.
The stats aren't pretty. Over 90 minutes, the two sides combined for 31 shots (15 for Stoke, 16 for Liverpool) but only six on target (h/t BBC Sport).
Winner: Advantage Liverpool
With a one-goal lead heading into a second leg on home turf, Liverpool will now be confident of advancing to the final. In that sense (as well as in the obvious, scoreline sense), the Reds are winners in our slideshow.
But what about Stoke? This hardly looked like the same side that beat Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United at the Britannia. As Phil McNulty wrote for BBC Sport, the Potters must be feeling some regret about their performance:
This was a huge night at The Britannia Stadium as Stoke City's players attempt to write their names alongside those who famously won the League Cup for The Potters against Chelsea at Wembley in 1972. And anticipation had been elevated by the impressive form shown by Mark Hughes' side, a potent blend of silk and steel that arguably had them as favourites before the game.
It was to be a disappointing 90 minutes for Hughes and his players as Liverpool appeared to stun them from the kick-off by pressurising them into mistakes and they simply never recovered enough to build up a head of steam.
Stoke have time to turn it around, but this was a missed opportunity for Hughes and his men.